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HORMAZD SORABJEE
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BMW launches the new X5 with beefed-up looks, improved dynamics and plusher interiors

The original BMW X5 put the ‘Sport’ in Sport Utility Vehicle. Launched internationally in 1999, it was the first 4x4 of its kind to use a car-like monocoque body and the first serious attempt by a manufacturer at making a driver’s car out of a high-riding SUV.

The X5’s excellent driving manners opened up this kind of vehicle to a whole new type of buyer over the years, BMW has sold 1.3 million X5s worldwide — and that is why this third-generation X5 looks pretty much the same as before.

So, what you see when you walk up to it is an X5 that incorporates all of BMW’s current styling cues. The nose is a lot bolder now and, like we first saw in the F30 3-series, incorporates headlights that stretch up to the grille. The kidney grille itself is more prominent, which along with the aggressive-looking bumper, strong contouring on the bonnet and pronounced shoulder line adds to the X5’s more grown-up and purposeful look. At the rear, the new tail-lamps and bumper are subtle changes over the old car, in comparison to the front.

This X5 shares much of its platform with the old car but a lot of it has been thoroughly updated. The body shell is stronger and lighter than before and a lot of working has been done to improve refinement. There are new 7-series-based seats that cut down on vibration and the suspension has been reworked to deal with small bumps better. Most significant of all though is a switch from hydraulically assisted steering to the electric variety.

Climb into the driver’s seat and you can instantly sense the step up in quality. The dashboard is well-made and looks rich with its variety of materials and textures, and despite the buttons being a bit too small and fiddly, they still have a nice, tactile feel. The best bit is the intuitive touch pad on top of the iDrive controller. It allows you to access your phone book with just a scribble of your finger (it can read quite well), in addition to the conventional scroll/push function.

The seats are supportive with good side bolstering and though you are not sat too high off the ground, all-round visibility is quite good. The rear seats, while not overly generous in size, have good cushioning all round and, on long drives, are very comfortable. The rear seats split 40:20:20 and, for India, you can opt for the 5+3 configuration, which makes the X5 a much desired seven-seater. The split tailgate is carried over from before, with the top-half being electrically operated.

For the launch drive, the new X5 was offered with two engines — the xDrive50i, which gets the petrol 4.4-litre V8 that produces 442bhp and the xDrive30d, which is powered by the familiar 3.0-litre straight-six diesel that churns out 254bhp.

The petrol V8 lunges forward at the tap of the throttle and feels more sportscar than SUV. And despite the use of an aluminium bonnet and plastic fenders, the X5 is quite heavy, at 2175kg, but it never feels that way.

The eight-speed gearbox (standard across all X5s), with its quick-acting torque converter, plays a key role in transmitting all that grunt so effectively.

The 30d is the X5 that will account for over 90 per cent of sales in India. It’s incredibly responsive and pulls cleanly from as low as 1700rpm. Though it doesn’t have the explosive performance of the petrol, this diesel has serious punch and pulls like a freight train with one seamless slug of torque.With its beefed-up looks, improved dynamics and plusher interiors, the new X5 has the goods to take a fresh stab at the premium luxury class and, if priced right, come out on top. The new X5 will be launched at the Auto Expo next February and is expected to go on sale in March 2014.

HORMAZD SORABJEE

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